As I said in my brief postgame post, I had very little confidence, based on the 2008 season, that IU would rebound from the heartbreaker at Michigan and lopsided losses to Ohio State and Virginia. I thought the Hoosiers were in for a double digit beatdown by a talented but inexplicably bad Illinois team. Still, my assessment probably was unfair. In 2007, IU withstood some tough losses, and perhaps this team will be more like this one. This was not a pretty or perfect performance. As in the Michigan game and nonconference games, IU struggled in the red zone, and Nick Freeland missed a couple of field goals. Still, with the season on the line, the Hoosiers played better than they have all season and may have put the finishing touches on Ron Zook's career as a head coach.
Here are the stats. In the end, IU outgained Illinois only by 39 yards (482-443), but IU averaged 6.8 yards per play to Illinois's 5.7. Still, it's worth noting that 148 of Illinois's yards came on the Illini's two fourth quarter drives, both of which began after IU had pulled ahead 27-7. The Illini's first possession of the fourth quarter was particularly odd. Illinois took possession with 10:48 remaining and a 20 point deficit. The Illini did score on that drive, but it was a 17 play, 6 minute drive that left the Illini with little chance of victory after they failed to recover a half-hearted onside kick.
The Illini's offense was not as inept as would have been predicted based on stats, but while Illinois moved the ball with some effectiveness the Illini fumbled four times and lost three of them (two were caused by strips by Jammie Kirlew).
The individual performances:
- Ben Chappell was outstanding. He was 23-38 for 333 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Mitchell Evans was 0-2 passing, but did everything else well. Running out of the Wildcat, he ran 9 times for 84 yards. He also caught three passes for 17 yards.
- Damarlo Belcher caught 6 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
- Tandon Doss continued to establish himself as one of the Big Ten's top receivers with 7 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.
- Tight end Troy Wagner caught his first career touchdown, and it wasn't a gimme: he had to dive across the middle to make the play.
- Darius Willis doesn't appear to be 100 percent after an ankle injury forced him to miss the Virginia game, but he did run for 58 yards on 18 carries.
- Jammie Kirlew forced two fumbles and sacked Juice Williams once.
- The missed field goals by Nick Freeland in the first half allowed the Illini to stay in the game even though IU did not punt in the first half.